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Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America

3.65  ·  Rating Details  ·  444 Ratings  ·  93 Reviews
Nationally syndicated columnist and bestselling author of ¡Ask a Mexican! Gustavo Arellano presents a tasty trip through the history and culture of Mexican food in this country, uncovering great stories and charting the cuisine’s tremendous popularity north of the border. Arellano’s fascinating narrative combines history, cultural criticism, food writing, personal anecdote ...more
Hardcover, 310 pages
Published April 10th 2012 by Scribner
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Jun 26, 2012 Darrenglass rated it it was ok
What an incredibly disappointing book.

If you know me, you know that I love Mexican food of all kinds. Whether it is cheap burritos in west Texas, high end alta cocina, regional dishes found in small Mexican villages, or moles that I make in my own kitchen, I love Mexican food. I have been known to plan vacations around Mexican cooking, including several cooking classes that my wife and I have taken. I am also very interested in food writing and the cultural history of food. So needless to say, I
Jul 29, 2012 Josh rated it really liked it
Delicious... makes the mouth water. My favorite section was the four pages of San Diego style Mexican food in the burrito chapter, including the history of the "-bertos". Wish I could get a California Burrito out here!
Gabriela Quintero
Jan 25, 2016 Gabriela Quintero rated it liked it
I feel this is book understands Mexican food and all those derived from it. It makes you understand why Americans have fallen for Mexican food and what that means for Mexican culture.

Lisa Church sielen
Jan 03, 2013 Lisa Church sielen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Really interesting about the origin of Mexican food in the US. I can now argue about what is "authentic" Mexican food.
Laura Brown
Jan 22, 2015 Laura Brown rated it really liked it
I'm happy to say that by the time the credits rolled, I've come to understand Mr. Arellano and give him kudos for this well-researched, funny, entertaining book. I found this book in a university library next to Michael Pollan, and was initially shocked out of my comfort zone by the differences between the two. Arellano peppers his book with reference to "gabachos," or the "pinche gringo," and other derisions of white America. Are they fairly earned? Maybe. Is the widespread generalization gratu ...more
Caroline Mathews
Mar 28, 2013 Caroline Mathews rated it liked it
Taco USA is the second book that I've read this month about Mexican food in America. When I began, I was already a devotee of pure Mexican vanilla and the fair trade coffee of Oaxaca. Now, I've found a USDA certified organic chocolate bar!

Gustavo Arellano's book has gone a long way in answering my questions about the history of Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex, why the traditional recipes changed over time, the nutritiousness of the cuisine, and how the introduction of canning, the invention of machinery, a
Jul 07, 2013 Robert rated it really liked it
Shelves: foodies
The U.S has been invaded! Oh and what a wonderful invasion it has been. I have a deep love for all food Mexican. I even married a beautiful young Mexican lady. And the green chili her Mama used to make was so wonderful. Now that tradition, along with many other wonderful recipes, have been passed to my wife. This book tells the story of how so many of these great foods crossed the border and created there very own regional favorites such as Tex-Mex and the Southwestern rage. So grab this book an ...more
Feb 20, 2016 Riley rated it liked it
There is a great sentence that captures the essence of this book, "to make you realize what you're inhaling a burrito, crunching through a hard taco, getting borracho on mescal, or prepping to make a mole that will impress your friends, every Mexican food stuff has a history it and didn't just drop into our scene dues ex machina . . . save Jesus on a tortilla."

Who knew there was so much history on Mexican food in America beyond tacos and burritos! Few people know of the early 20th century of the
Nov 13, 2014 Bookworm rated it did not like it
Left me hungry for more It started well. Author Arellano takes the reader through a history of Mexican food, from the Spanish invaders (who took back some of the recipes and ingredients to Spain) to the rise of Tex-Mex, to the story of Taco Bell, etc. Then it branches off into specific foods: the fajita, burrito, etc.Like what other reviews say elsewhere, it's clear his strengths are when he talks about the history of food. But as it goes on it gets more and more tedious. A review on both Amazon ...more
Sep 07, 2014 Cyndi rated it really liked it
Shelves: food, history
I love me a good food history book. Arellano doesn't disappoint. He mixes personal stories and interviews with historical and cultural tidbits and countless descriptions of foods most of us have probably never heard of. This is the Ask a Mexican columnist so forget about mainstream notions of authenticity and worth and look more to community, taste, and valuing people who give a damn about the food they sell.

Why not 5 stars? Well it's a bit rambly but mostly because this is a book that cries out
Michael Norwitz
Jun 13, 2015 Michael Norwitz rated it really liked it
The author of the 'Ask a Mexican' column pens a book about the history of Mexican food in the United States. Sometimes a bit light on details, and affecting a breezy style, he still managed to entertain and leave me consistently hungry while reading the book, which was certainly his intention.
Rich Saskal
Mar 04, 2015 Rich Saskal rated it really liked it
This nation has evolved considerably three decades. For example: 30 years ago I had a job as a dishwasher in a wildly popular Connecticut Mexican restaurant that employed exactly zero Mexican people.
The food was, as I belatedly realized after moving west and coming into contact with Mexican food that Mexican people were involved with making, horrid.
Arellano's book places my insignificant data point in the larger story of how Mexican food in the U.S. went from being something exotic to something
Karen Bales
Jun 03, 2012 Karen Bales rated it liked it
This account of how Mexican food has made it's way into American cuisine is funny and informative. I admit to being one of the vanquished!
Anna Gallegos
Jan 08, 2015 Anna Gallegos rated it really liked it
As a sometime reader of Arellano's "Ask a Mexican" column, I was excited to finally get my hands on this book. With the explosion of "Doritos Locos" tacos and Chipotle restaurants, the book is a little dated at the start of 2015, but still interesting for those who want to know more about Mexican food in relation to USA's tastes.

The later part of the book should really be "How America Invaded Mexican Food" since it ends up being about the rise of Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex. It did slightly irk me - a
Dec 22, 2014 Michael rated it liked it
Ran across an article about Mexican food and decided to give this one a try. I enjoyed the Fortune Cookie Chronicles a lot, so this one seemed similar.

Taco USA does a great job of covering several strains of Mexican foods from their beginning. Mexican food started out described as "Spanish" food, since anything Mexican had a poor connotation. Starting with Tamale men (which originated the whole Red Hot Tamale saying), Mexican food has had a long history in America. This book covers them, Mexican
May 14, 2012 Cindy rated it it was amazing
Taco USA is a must read and worth the money you would have spent on dinner at your favorite Mexican restaurant or a couple of meals from your favorite taco truck. I read slowly, wanting to savor — sorry for the pun — the descriptions of a lot of new-to-me takes on Mexican food outside of Southern California. I was also disgusted by some of the many culinary crimes committed in the name of making Mexican food palatable to white Americans’ taste (see: canned tortillas… guácala!).

Back to the book,
Jun 12, 2012 Angel rated it really liked it
Though it can get a bit long at times (the chapter on restaurant history really felt like a long haul), the book overall is very good. Arellano is covering a lot of ground, but that is because Mexican food in the U.S. has taken so many forms, it has been transformed so many times, it has been adapted so often that it takes a lot of effort and research to track it all down. Track it all down the author has. From the early restaurants to food in the grocery stores with side trips about tequila and ...more
Nov 22, 2014 Chris rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this. I particularly appreciated the author's sympathetic attitude to Cal-Mex, Tex-Mex and other cuisines with which I am familiar. Maybe its not what they eat in Oaxaca, but that doesn't make it any less real for those of us who enjoy it. After finishing it, I had to go have a plate of chile verde with homemade corn tortillas at this little place i know in Stoneham, Mass.
Margaret Sankey
Nov 06, 2012 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
One more reason to miss the chance to do the food class--the history of Mexican food in America. Arellano begins with the Columbian Exchange (beef! chiles! corn! chocolate! pigs!), the goes on to a whole variety of manifestations: tortillas in space (NASA loves crumbless carbs), tamales as street food, "Spanish" recipes in womens' club cookbooks, sit-down restaurants with waitresses in peasant blouses, Midwesterners de-spice tacos and franchise Taco Bell/Taco Time/Del Taco, gourmets discover "au ...more
Sep 17, 2012 Lauren added it
This book doesn't get to the spicy cumin (like how the manufacturer of Fritos stole his Frito-making machine's design from a Mexican immigrant, and then patented it under his own name) until the second half. And that's why you should stick with it through the treacherous first half, which explores the more cumbersome and elusive history of Mexican entrees like tacos, tamales, and chili: subjects that become bogged down with anecdotes and facts because of their unavoidably murky origins.

Above al
Brittany Batong
Aug 05, 2012 Brittany Batong rated it it was amazing
Gustavo Arellano pens an engaging folk-history of the origins of so many of my favorite foods, as well as some regional dishes with which I was less familiar. What I love the most about this book, however, is how it challenges that pretentious "Oh, but is AUTHENTIC?" attitude, and makes an intelligent case for the fact that ALL Mexican food--be it from Mexico City, or some obscure village near Oaxaca, or a modest restaurant in San Francisco, or a food truck in Los Angeles--is authentic in that i ...more
Aug 13, 2012 Amy rated it liked it
Shelves: food-cooking
Tamale-men and cacao nibs and a tribe that once had the exclusive market on vanilla. I skimmed this and skipped around in the chapters. The book was making me too hungry to really care about a lot of its urban history details. But I like the author's writing style and plan to check in more often on his blog, Ask a Mexican, where he gets more political.

Meanwhile, two things resonated with me.

First is that the food scene in Los Angeles is so much better than the city gets credit for.

Second is th
Brad Eastman
Jan 08, 2014 Brad Eastman rated it liked it
First, I love Mexican food, whether it isTex-Mex, Cal-Mex, Mex-Mex or fusion, I love it. However, I had trouble sustaining my interest in the history of Mexican food over 300 pages. Mr. Arellano develops an interesting theme of how Mexican food has been adopted/expropriated/amalgamated (depending on your point of view) by Anglo American culture over and over since the late nineteenth century. He chronicles the rise of tamales, chili con Carne, tortillas, tequila, etc. Mr. Arellano writes in an e ...more
Shawn Thrasher
Jun 11, 2012 Shawn Thrasher rated it really liked it
I saw Gustavo Arellano speak at the Upland, California public library a few weeks ago, and was so enchanted that I put his book to the top of my list. Mexican food has indeed conquered America, and Arellano has conquered writing about it in this witty, information packed book. Almost everything you never even knew you wanted to know about all things Mexican food - from tortillas to Pace Picante Sauce ("get a rope") to Fritos Doritos Cheetos and Tostitos. The purist might argue that last point, t ...more
Cynthia  Scott
Aug 24, 2013 Cynthia Scott rated it it was amazing
I grouped this with cook books because it is so much about food, but it really is cultural history just as much. Being a southern Californian, "Mexican food" has been a normal ethnic option all my life. I was astounded to learn the history of the specific menu items that American's accept now as common authentic "Mexican" that really evolved in places like
Chicago and San Francisco.

I enjoyed this book so much from the library that I read it through once, a second time for certain passages, and
It would be wiser to review this after reading Jeffrey Pilcher's Planet Taco, which is published in September. Pilcher wrote an excellent piece about the origins of the Taco in Gastronomica a few years ago. If the book is like the article, it will provide a more rigorous history than Arellano. That said, Pilcher's book won't likely match the unpretentious and unabashedly upbeat Taco U.S.A., which reads like a simultaneous love letter to Mexican culture and American spirit. Arellano has his axes ...more
Mar 31, 2014 Joe rated it liked it
Got it for a birthday present friend almost a year ago, and finally read it. Interesting read, it felt a little scattered at times, but there was some interesting stuff involved (I particularly got a kick out of the history of Taco Bell).
Jul 24, 2012 Keith rated it really liked it
"Taco USA" tracks the tremendous popularity of Mexican cuisine and its spin-offs, including Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, and West-Mex, which feature a bastardized version of Tater Tots. Author Gustavo Arellano (who writes the syndicated weekly column Ask a Mexican!) offers a lively and entertaining gastronomical and historical tour, equal parts research, reportage, and riffs. While it certainly whets the readers appetite, Taco USA also aims at history buffs, and anyone intrigued by the paradoxical, parasit ...more
Mar 02, 2014 Andrew rated it really liked it
Everyone loves Mexican food. Yeah, yeah, that's the point of the book. It's why I find myself, a non-Mexican, eating something Mexican related at least 4 times a week since as far back as I can remember. I didn't realize how Pavlovian my response to just hearing about Mexican food was until reading Taco USA. I've always gotten a craving when Mexican music plays for too long, but I found my mouth watering the entire time I read and an almost unbearable craving for Mexican eats upon finishing chap ...more
Jul 27, 2012 Mark rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is a much stronger effort than "Orange County." Sr. Arellano has an excellent, cohesive narrative regarding the rise and subsequent americanization of Mexican food. Is it sometimes a little biased? But of course, but I appreciate his attempts at showing how the bastardization of Mexican food is actually more Mexican than one would believe. I do disagree with his 5 best Mexican meals in America, but the point is to disagree, Sr. Arellano states as much in that chapter. Otherwise, I was fasci ...more
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Gustavo Arellano is the author of ¡Ask a Mexican!, a nationally syndicated weekly column published by Orange County's alternative weekly OC Weekly. It was first published in 2004 as a one-time spoof, but it ended up becoming one of the weekly's most popular columns.

Every week, readers would submit their questions based on Mexicans, including their customs, labor issues, and illegal immigration. Ar
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“It was a mission of celebration: never had two Mexican-Americans flown up in space on the same mission, and never did burritos shine so brightly.” 1 likes
“Espero la cosecha de mi sueño sirva como inspiracion a todos!” he enthused via Twitter. “I hope the harvest of my dream serves as inspiration to all!” 0 likes
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